Rotherham abuse scandal: what was life like for a victim?

rotherhamOften described as the “biggest child protection scandal in UK history”, the organised child sexual exploitation in Rotherham saw around 1,400 children abused from 1997 – 2013 (according to the Jay Report). The scale of the child protection scandal has led professionals responsible for safeguarding children in other regions to recognise the extent of child abuse in their area and consider how to respond efficiently.

On the 25th July, we hosted an event at Kingston University to launch Child Sexual Exploitation after Rotherham, a book written by two whistleblowers of the case, Adele Gladman and Dr Angie Heal. Adele Gladman is an experienced safeguarding children trainer and consultant, and previously ran the research and development pilot funded by the Home Office which was referred to in both the Jay and Casey reports during the Rotherham case. Dr Angie Heal was a strategic analyst working for South Yorkshire police who has since contributed to Panorama documentaries. Both gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee for the Rotherham case in 2014 and they continue to assist with ongoing investigation and inquiries.

Also joining us on the day, we heard talks from Anne Longfield OBE, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Professor Alexis Jay OBE, author of the Independent Inquiry report into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham, and T, a survivor of Rotherham case.

Known as T to keep her identity private, this brave individual came to the seminar for this book in order to give a talk about what had happened to her. Coming from a large family, T spoke of her previously normal life before the abusive events that followed. In the recording below, you can listen to her talk about what life was like living through the abuse she encountered from such a young age, and the appalling trial that followed.

Read an extract from Learning from Baby P

shoesmith_learning-from-b_978-1-78592-003-5_colourjpg-webSharon Shoesmith has worked with children for almost 40 years in a career which culminated with her role as Director of Children’s Services in the London Borough of Haringey. She was in this role in 2007 at the time of death of Peter Connelly, also known as ‘Baby P’. Blamed for his death and unlawfully sacked, Sharon Shoesmith became the primary target of a public and press-led outcry in the aftermath of the case.

Click here to read an extract

Learning from Baby P is Shoesmith’s dispassionate analysis of the events which followed Peter Connelly’s death, documenting the responses of the media, politicians and the public whilst defending social workers against the scapegoating which happens so frequently in the aftermath of high profile child protection cases. She explores the psychological and emotional responses we share when faced with such horrifying cases of familial child homicide, and how a climate of fear and blame which follows such tragedies can lead to negative consequences for other children at risk of harm, and for the social workers striving to protect them. Sharon now works as a researcher, writer and public speaker in areas related to education, social care and public perception.

Learning from Baby P is a thought-provoking book aiming to deepen understanding and shed light on the difficult relationship between politics, the media and child protection.

 

There is no formula when it comes to tackling child neglect

Neglect is the most common form of child abuse, but is hard to identify and address. Which is why Ruth Gardner decided to bring together a number of professional voices in her book Tackling Child Neglect, to look at the research, policy and practice involved in children’s services in the UK and the US. In this blog, Ruth shares her experience of working in children services over the years.
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Putting Black Children in the Centre of Safeguarding

It has become increasingly evident that black children and young people are facing victimisation in a context where their identities and experiences are marginalised and devalued. In this blog post authors and academics Claudia Bernard and Perlita Harris call attention to the lived experiences of black children in the child protection arena.

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How do we respond to children we consider need protecting?

Informed by her many years on the frontline and subsequent experience writing serious case reviews, Joanna Nicolas has identified the most common pitfalls in child protection cases in her latest book Practical Guide to Child Protection. In this blog, Joanna explores what kind of issues frontline workers need to focus on when faced with a long list of case reviews.

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It feels as though we as a country are at a crossroads as to what we consider to be child protection and how we respond to children we consider need protecting. There has also been seismic change in terms of the increasing recognition of child sexual exploitation and the impact that has on services. Child sexual exploitation usually involves victims who are teenagers – how do we work effectively with teenagers when they can just tell us to get stuffed – and is our child protection system as it stands effective for working with very vulnerable victims of child sexual exploitation? I remember a young person I was working with who would take part in a police video interview in the morning and talk about the abuse but then she would leave and later that day would be back with the gang. No one has all the answers and you cannot just lock these young people up.

There are those who are questioning whether our current system as a whole is fit for purpose. The Government is saying that there is to be an overhaul of how we protect our most vulnerable children. As well as this, at a time of great austerity, more and more children are living in poverty and there are those who are deeply concerned that the child protection system is being used in a wholly inappropriate way to deal with the consequences of austerity. On top of that, we have increasing obesity levels in children and so the debate goes about whether that should be dealt with in the child protection area and so it goes on.

While all of this goes on and cuts become greater and systems change and change again, those on the frontline have to keep their focus on the day-to-day job of protecting our most vulnerable children. In my professional lifetime I do not think there has been a harder time to do that, particularly as social workers can now be named by the media in some court cases, the Government is considering jail terms for professionals who do not report abuse, and almost daily you can read misleading and sometimes erroneous headlines about what social workers and other public sector workers have failed to do and how that has resulted in the death of, or serious injury to, a child.

With all of this in mind I wanted to write a book that focused purely on the practical. What do you do when faced with certain situations and what are the issues we need frontline workers to focus on?

For the last seven years I have been working on serious case reviews. There are common themes that arise from serious case reviews, such as agencies that have not worked well together, information that has not been shared, the parents/carers have issue around unmet mental health needs/substance misuse/domestic abuse, the child has become invisible, etc. I wanted to focus this book on those areas because what we learn from serious case reviews is that those are the areas we struggle with the most.

I am not an academic and this is not a textbook. I am a practitioner who has worked in the field of child protection for 20 years and so I wanted to write a practical guide. The aim of the book is to help frontline professionals with the work they are doing every single day.  My starting point is that when I qualified as a social worker, 20 years ago, no one ever told me what to do when you knock on someone’s door and they tell you to f*** off, and there have been so many situations over the years where I have asked myself ‘what on earth do I do now?’ The father answering the door in his Y-fronts was a dilemma. He insisted I come in and explained his near-nakedness by saying it was so hot, but I resisted and stood firmly on the doorstep. I had to make it very clear I was not going to enter the home until he was dressed – but you don’t learn that at university! I hope that is what this book will do, help you think about the practicalities.

We all need all the help we can get but there is never enough time to read everything we should, so I have created a book that you can dip in and out of, to help with the dilemma you are facing at the time. Just don’t make the mistake I did when a patronising father said to me many years ago, “Well how old are you, Missy?” and I heard myself reply, “I’m nearly 32…”

If this book helps one person it will be worth every hour I have worked on it and I hope that person will be you.

Joanna Nicolas has worked in social care for 23 years. She has worked as a residential social worker, a frontline child protection social worker and has been developing and delivering child protection training for her Local Safeguarding Children Board since 2006. She also develops and delivers training in the private and voluntary sector. She now leads on serious case reviews and works as an independent child protection consultant. She is an accredited lead reviewer in the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) Learning Together systems reviews model and has been leading these reviews since 2011, when the Government first piloted the model. Since 2008 Joanna has been a national commentator on issues around social work, child protection and serious case reviews. She is also the author of ‘Conducting The Home Visit In Child Protection’.

Learn more about Practical Guide to Child Protection.

Helping traumatised children let go of control

9781849057608 (1)In this extract from Helping Children Affected by Parental Substance Abuse, author Tonia Caselman talks about the importance of giving children and young adults a safe space where they can let go of control and shed their feelings of responsibility. Following an in-depth exploration of how victims of parental substance abuse feel about control and responsibility, you’ll find two activities that will help you carry out direct work on an individual and group level.

Read the extract now

 

You can find out more about the book, read reviews and order your copy here.

 

Three Steps to Improving the Safeguarding of Children

Ofsted’s October 2014 report on the outcomes of the first 33 inspections under their new framework showed that over two thirds of children’s services where either “inadequate” or “require improvement”. Offering a pragmatic and achievable approach to assisting services to build their capacity to meet public, political and professional expectations in his book The Common-Sense Guide to the Safeguarding of Children, author Terry McCarthy outlines his three-step approach to improving the safeguarding of children.

Social workers are expected to enable fundamental and sustained change with parents and carers who often have long-term and entrenched issues relating to their capability, behaviour and life choices. These most commonly concern alcohol and drug use, violence, criminal activity, learning disability, mental health problems and serious emotional difficulties. Often more than one of these elements needs to be addressed to ensure the safety and welfare of children. The challenge is made even more difficult by families often being unwelcoming or fearful of agencies’ involvement, leading to them being evasive or hostile.

Whilst most social workers are highly committed, these complexities, demands and expectations take their toll with many being overwhelmed, stressed and anxious. This can lead to low morale, uncertainty and poor confidence. The impact on the continuity and long term stability of services is often felt through high staff turnover, sickness and shortened careers. For those who do remain in practice the complexities can cause misjudgements, tunnel vision, lack of focus and ineffective practice with practitioners feeling unable to challenge situations or creatively engage with families. This can also lead to process driven practice which meets procedure and policy requirements, committing considerable energy and resources without necessarily leading to significant benefit to children.

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The Three Step approach considers how safeguarding agencies, particularly children’s services, can work within available resources to make a real difference. This does not require a major ground shift but rather can be achieved through the accumulative effect of a series of small, easily implemented measures.

Step one: Establish a culture which enables and leads 

This culture should identify how organisational values, attitudes and behaviours are needed to model good parenting. This includes having healthy relationships, good communication, clarity of purpose, conflict resolution, constructive use of authority and creative approaches. It is argued that the “managerial” approach, which focuses on procedure, giving instruction and monitoring compliance, is limited and unlikely to adequately inspire, support and lead practitioners through the highly complex challenge of identifying and address the mistreatment to children.

Step two: Develop a stable, skilled and confident workforce

This presumes that most social workers are reasonably clear about what should be done and why this is required to safeguard children, however often struggle with how they can bring about the required outcomes. Effective practice requires practitioners to be supported to develop focus, understand the complexities and address anxiety which can overwhelm them. The practitioner skills outlined in the book are an expansion of the Performance Capability Framework and it is argued that a blend of supervision, coaching, consultation and case auditing can create a learning environment where best practice is likely to flourish.

Step three: Enable families to change.

This sets out thirteen aspects of effective work with families to ensure that risks to children and the fundamental reasons for these are clearly understood, leading to effective planning which focuses on addressing solutions and ensuring real progress within reasonable timescales. This requires honest, effective and direct relationships with families and partner agencies including clarity about how meetings and involvement with the family and professionals ensure that key aspects of the plan are progressed.

 Terry McCarthy  is a qualified social worker with over 30 years’ experience in children’s services. Read more about The Common-Sense Guide to Improving the Safeguarding of Children here.

What every parent and professional needs to know

The Autism Spectrum, Sexuality and the Law by Tony Attwood, Isabelle Hénault and Nick Dubin.

This ground-breaking book explores issues that can arise surrounding the autism spectrum (ASD), sexuality and the law.

From the book, Larry Dubin

“I know the love and dedication that is required of parents raising a child on the autism spectrum. There are so many issues that are extremely difficult to navigate. I have great admiration for parents who work hard to find and pay for necessary services while helping their children deal with the many social, sensory, speech and language, and other issues that can arise. With my deepest respect for these special and dedicated parents, let me offer this advice in light of our family’s heart-breaking experience.

  • Recognize that your child is a sexual being. Although it may be difficult to deal with your child’s sexual issues, don’t ignore them, and seek professional help if necessary. Current research indicates that a variety of problems can arise with respect to sexual development for those on the autism spectrum.
  • Make clear to your child that certain behaviors could lead to an encounter with the criminal justice system and even to imprisonment. These behaviors include viewing child pornography on the internet, stalking, unwanted touching, having meltdowns in public and indecent exposure. Your child must understand the severe legal consequences that can occur when these types of charges are brought against people on the autism spectrum who may not understand that they were even committing a criminal act. It may be appropriate to place restraints on your child’s computer to ensure only lawful use.
  • Nick’s case was processed under federal law of the United States. Although most countries criminalize possession of child pornography, the elements of the crime, the possible defenses, and the potential prison sentences are not uniformly followed. Parents should become familiar with the laws pertaining to child pornography in the country in which they reside.
  • Be sure your child knows that if ever confronted by the police, with respect to having committed a crime, he or she should be polite and ask for a lawyer to be present without making any further statements. The trusting and naïve nature of people on the autism spectrum, who typically want to please authority, make them easy candidates to be taken advantage of by trained police officers who can question them without the protection of a lawyer. The law allows police officers to make certain false statements in order to get a confession that can and will be used against the person. There is also the danger that false confessions can occur. It is always best to have a lawyer present to represent the interests of a person on the autism spectrum before making any statements to law enforcement personnel.”

Why this Book Matters—

“As you will discover reading this book, we have been through a long and horrific ordeal. Our family has suffered in silence and shame for over three years. Many would wonder why we have actually chosen to publicly expose such an intimate and personal experience. The answer is that we wanted our experience to count for something; to have a larger meaning. Our purpose in writing the book is to bring forth an issue that has been in the shadows for too long.  In the process of preparing Nick’s legal case, we gathered significant information and research that we feel obligated to share with others who could benefit from it.”

Kitty and Larry Dubin

This book is an invaluable addition to the shelves of parents of children with ASD, mental health and legal professionals, teachers, caregivers and other professionals working with individuals on the spectrum. For more information, please visit our website.

Julian Cohen on ‘All About Drugs and Young People.’ (Part 2)

In the first part of this interview, All About Drugs and Young People (Part 1), JKP author, educator and counsellor Julian Cohen shared some of the insight and experience he has gained whilst working to educate young people about drugs over the past 30 years. In this second and final part, he talks about legal highs, how the internet has affected young people and drug use and offers more advice on what parents and professionals can do to support young people who are or may be using drugs. 

Cohen_All-About-Drugs_978-1-84905-427-0_colourjpg-web6. In your experience, how significant is the advent of legal highs and the internet? How do you think they have impacted young people’s experiences of drugs and drug use?

Both are very significant. As I explain in some detail in my book there are now hundreds of different legal highs being sold in this country. They can sometimes be sourced from dealers who sell illegal drugs but the main supply is through the many and growing number of headshops in cities and larger towns, from other retail outlets including some garages and even car boots and over the internet. This means young people have much easier access to a wide range of relatively cheap drugs, often without any contact with drug dealers or putting themselves at risk of breaking the law.

Many legal highs will be unfamiliar to young people who use them and some have dangerous effects, especially if taken in large quantities and/or with other drugs. We have started to see more deaths related to legal highs, many it would seem when young people have not been clear about what they have taken, how much it is safe to take or the implications of combining use of legal highs with other drugs.

Buying drugs over the internet has increased significantly, especially, but not only, for legal highs. All it takes is a credit card order and the drugs are delivered in a package to your door by mail or courier very soon, possibly the next day. There is also a growing market for buying illegal drugs over the internet, often using encrypted websites that make it very difficult for the authorities to trace sellers or buyers. The internet is likely to become an increasing feature of drug supply and markets in the future.

Ease of availability of legal highs and of drugs through the internet raises serious questions about our existing drug laws because there are now so many ways to obtain drugs without breaking the law or by reducing the likelihood of being caught. Countries such as Portugal, Uruguay and New Zealand and also some American states are beginning to experiment with new and less draconian drug controls. Hopefully, more informed debate about new ways of controlling drugs, and finding sensible ways of reducing the harm that can follow from using drugs, will develop in the UK.

7. Is addiction or dependency on drugs a common problem for young people? Why do you think some young people develop drug dependency?

The first thing I want to stress is that the majority of young people who use drugs have a good time and do not come to serious harm. Most go on to moderate use or give up altogether as they grow older and take on adult responsibilities. It is only a small minority of young users who become dependent on drugs.

I believe that drug use, in whatever form, is always functional. That is, rather than just thinking that drugs do things to people, people choose to use drugs, as they do, to obtain certain outcomes relating to increasing pleasure and relaxation and/or reducing distress, anxiety and pain.

A lot of people think of addiction or dependency as a lifelong disease or that certain people have ‘addictive personalities’ that mean they will inevitably become dependent and cannot do much about it. Having studied these issues for many years I do not think there is much good evidence to support these views, despite the fact that a lot of people believe them.

In contrast, I see dependent drug use as a symptom of deeper, underlying problems that people face. Dependency is an attempt by users to keep negative feelings about themselves, other people and the world around them at bay and to get through a life they are having difficulty coping with. It is a way of trying to deal with emotional distress and pain that is grounded in people’s past and current life experiences and situations. In the words of the author Bruce Alexander, dependent users experience a ‘poverty of the spirit’ and have become ‘dislocated’ from themselves, their communities and wider society.

8. What are some of the main things parents and professionals can do to support young people when it comes to drugs?

I have called one of the major parts of my book ‘Be Prepared’ and suggest ways both parents and professionals can help and support young people. The first thing I emphasise is the need to inform ourselves and to learn facts, rather than myths. I also stress that both parents and professionals can be proactive in helping to make sure that young people have a good drug education. Ideally we can learn alongside young people and also from them as well. It is also important to be aware of, and to question, our own use of drugs and our feelings and attitudes about drug use.

Most of all we need to develop our ability to listen to, and openly communicate with, young people, rather than lecture them. I also suggest that both parents and organisations that work with young people will benefit by negotiating sensible drug rules and sanctions, rather than imposing them or being overly draconian.

To ‘be prepared’ it also helps if we anticipate situations where young people may be using in ways we find acceptable and/or having difficulties with their drug use. This includes being clear about whom you might want or need to inform and involve, about any legal obligations you may be faced with and, for professionals, clarity about the boundaries of confidentiality. Both parents and professionals will find it useful to know how to make a sensible assessment of what is happening, why a young person may be using as they are and what risks are involved. It is also useful to know some basic drug-related first aid and about where and how to access specialist help for young people and also for yourself.

We need to be realistic about situations when young people are involved with drugs and the changes we can expect of them. Where young people are likely to continue to use drugs, whatever we may hope or say to them, it is crucial to adopt a harm reduction approach whereby we can help to ensure their safety and keep channels of communication open. I cover all these issues and more in my book.

9. How can we help young people who develop serious problems with their drug use?

As I explained before, if young people develop serious problems with their drug use they will be experiencing significant difficulties in their lives. If we are going to help them we need to empathise with them, listen to what they have to say, understand the difficulties they are experiencing in their life, help them to explore their options and help them to make realistic changes. We might also sometimes have to hold up our hands and appreciate ways we may have contributed to the problems they are facing.

Rather than castigating or demonising them we need to support them as best as we can. Ideally we will do so in the ways I have already described above and by helping them to access good, specialist services, when needed. However, we should appreciate that young people cannot be helped by such services unless they are willing to engage with them.

It can be difficult for us to be consistent in our support for young people who have developed serious drug problems. It can be very taxing, especially for parents. I have devoted a specific chapter to this and also written chapters giving advice about what we can do if young people become violent or steal money or possessions to buy drugs or supply drugs and situations where young people may be using drugs but do not see any harm in it and will not stop.

In such situations it will help if we can avoid panicking, are patient and realistic about what we can expect from young people. It is important to be clear about our own boundaries regarding what is and is not acceptable to us and what we are, and are not, prepared to do for young people. All this can be very difficult to do. There are no magic wand solutions. So I want to emphasise that neither parents nor professionals are on their own and that, where necessary, they should seek support for themselves so that they are better able to help young people.

But in a wider sense it is not just down to parents and professionals. If we are to reduce the number of young people who experience serious problems with their drug use we need to make sure that we have appropriate and well-resourced education and support services that engage well with young people. I am concerned that funding for such services has been declining. And we also need to address wider community, societal and political issues so that all young people have opportunities to develop meaningful and fulfilling lives in the future.

10. What did you learn from writing the book?

I learnt more about young people’s drug use and realistic and practical ways of responding to and supporting them. There is always more to learn. The book involved a lot of research using published sources and also talking with people. It was a challenge to organise my ideas and to reflect on, and learn from, my personal and professional experiences. Above all I had to question what I think and believe and why.

The process of writing re-enforced in me that we still too often focus on substances to the detriment of understanding and having empathy for people – young people, parents and professionals – and the reasons and ways we use drugs and also respond to other people’s use. In this sense it is important that we see drug use as more of a symptom, rather than a cause, of the issues we face in our lives.

 

You can read a free extract from Julian’s book, All About Drugs and Young People, in this blog post.

Julian Cohen is a writer, educator, counsellor and consultant who has specialised in drug and sex education work with children, young people, parents, carers and professionals for nearly 30 years. He has written extensively on drugs and young people, ranging from teaching and training packages to educational games, pamphlets and books for young people, parents and professionals. Find out more about Julian including his training courses and consultancy work on his website, here: http://www.juliancohen.org.uk/ 

Julian Cohen on ‘All About Drugs and Young People.’

In the first of a two-part interview, JKP author, educator and counsellor Julian Cohen  shares some of the insight and experience he has gained whilst working to educate young people about drugs over the past 30 years.

Cohen_All-About-Drugs_978-1-84905-427-0_colourjpg-web1. Your book emphasises that nearly all of us use drugs and have a lifetime drug career. Can you explain what this means and why it is something we need to be aware of?
If we define drugs as mood-altering substances we have to include medicines, caffeine and alcohol as well as illegal and other socially taboo drugs. This means that, in today’s world, we nearly all take drugs from a very early age. You might even say that we experience drug use before birth because many substances taken by pregnant mothers cross the placenta and can affect a foetus.

Too often we tend to think of drugs as only being illegal or other socially taboo substances. Yet medicines, caffeine and alcohol can also affect our moods, stimulate or depress our body systems and sometimes cause us problems. Medicines and caffeine play any increasing role in the lives of young children and are present throughout our lives. In fact many young children expect and sometimes demand medicines when they do not feel well or cannot easily get to sleep. Inadvertently we are teaching young children that, if you want to change the way you feel, you buy a drug and take it. You could almost say this is like an apprenticeship for future social drug use. At the other end of the age spectrum many elderly people take a plethora of mood-altering medicines.

We nearly all self-medicate on an array of mood-altering substances throughout our lives. When things are going relatively well for us our drug use tends to be more moderate. But when we experience difficulties our drug use tends to increase in an attempt to keep difficult feelings at bay. The real issue is not whether we take drugs or not, but whether we have a relatively successful, safe and pleasurable, what I call, drug career or a more damaging one.
And when it comes to understanding young people’s drug use, and their motivation for using as they do, it helps if we reflect on our own drug careers and the lessons we can learn from them.  In the introduction to my book I have written about my own drug career, and those of significant people in my life, and how reflecting on that has helped form my own attitudes and views about drug use.

 

2. One of the most commonly asked questions when speaking about drugs is; how easy is it to spot the signs of drug use? How do you know if someone is using drugs?
Following on from my answer to the previous question you can see that we nearly all use drugs and often there are unlikely to be anyway give-away signs that we do. Most people ask this question with regard to young people using illegal and other socially unacceptable drugs. The difficulty here is that unless you are with a young person when they are actually under the influence of drugs you may have no idea that they use drugs at other times. And even if they are behaving strangely or out of character they may be doing so for reasons that may have nothing to do with drug use. For example, they could be ill or have had an emotionally traumatic experience. Some publications list changes in behaviour that may indicate drug use but most of these things could be due to other things. The danger of looking for set signs and symptoms is that we will jump to the wrong conclusion and even start accusing young people in a way that prevents honest and open communication with them.

You might also find what you think is a drug or drug paraphernalia. Whilst this may indicate drug use it can be difficult to know exactly what you have found and whether a substance is actually the drug you suspect. Pills, powders and herbal-type mixtures are often not easily identifiable. They may not be what you first think they are and might be for purposes other than you assume or fear. And similarly what you think may be drug paraphernalia could be things that have other, non-drug uses.

My main point is that looking for signs and symptoms of drug use is no substitute for communicating with young people. And to do this effectively we need to avoid assuming the worst, keep calm and actually listen to them.

 

3. The book also talks about how the dangers of drugs are often exaggerated; what do you mean by this and why you think it is an unhelpful approach?
As I explain in some detail in my book there is a long history of us exaggerating the dangers of illegal and other socially taboo drugs whilst underplaying the risks of alcohol, medicines and other more socially acceptable substances. We also tend to ignore the dangers of non-drug activities that we often encourage young people to participate in, such as outdoor pursuits and extreme sports. Statistically such activities are often far more likely to result in injury or death, than using drugs. In this sense we can be very hypocritical about young people’s use of drugs.

We also tend to take extreme examples of cases where young people have died using drugs and try to present these as norms and as a warning not to use drugs. The problem here is that many young people find out from their own use and by hearing from others, that drug use is not as risky as we make out. In fact it may well be an exciting and fun experience for them. They then distrust adult sources of information about drugs and feel we are lying to them. The result is little open dialogue between us and young people. Drug use can be dangerous but we need to be honest with young people and keep the risks in perspective.

 

4. Similarly, you talk about how a lot of people have inaccurate ideas or information about drugs. What are some of the main or most damaging myths?
There are so many commonly believed myths about the effects and harms of particular drugs, about the people who use drugs and why they use as they do, about how drugs are obtained and how much they cost, about dependence and addiction and about what we can realistically do about drug use. In fact there are so many myths that I will not go through them here. Many of them are listed in my book where I invite readers to think about and discuss particular myths they may think are true and to be aware of the lack of evidence for them.

The difficulty for us all is that many of these myths are commonly used and re-enforced in the media and by politicians and other social commentators. In many cases we seem to be so anxious about drugs that we lose our capacity to think sensibly and rationally and instead latch on to soundbites and mythology. This creates unnecessary fear and is not a good basis on which to have meaningful discussions with young people about drugs or for parents and professionals to make decisions about how to respond to their drug use. And, of course, it is also not a good foundation on which to make decisions about drug laws and wider drug policies in our society.

 

5. You have specialised in educating young people about drugs for many years. In what ways do you think drug use by young people has changed in recent years?
The large scale surveys that are carried out on a regular basis do not give an accurate picture of overall drug use among young people but they do give us some indicators. It is clear that, more recently, fewer young people have been smoking cigarettes and slightly fewer have been drinking alcohol. The figures for those who have tried most illegal and other socially unacceptable drugs have also fallen.

However, new trends and new substances are emerging that give a different picture. Cocaine use is now more common amongst young people than 20 years ago and although ecstasy use has declined the recent trend to more use of powder, rather than just pills, may see numbers using increasing again. Use of ‘newer’ drugs such as GHB, ketamine, mephedrone, nitrous oxide and PMA has emerged and, as I emphasise in my book, there has been a very significant increase in the use of legal highs, substances that mimic the effects of illegal drugs but are not (yet) controlled under drug laws.

So whilst there may have been a decline in the number of young people using certain drugs, many young people are still using and they now have access to, and are selecting from, a broader range of drugs. We also know that young people in the UK tend to drink more alcohol and use other drugs more often and in greater quantities than many of their European counterparts.

There are also questions as to whether or not more of the young people who do use drugs are using in greater quantities and/or becoming dependent. The evidence is not clear but there are concerns that the ongoing recession, high youth unemployment and lack of opportunities for many young people may mean that more of them may become involved with heavy use of drugs.

The other point I wish to highlight is that young people’s drug use has increasingly become part of the general pattern of commercialisation and consumption that is now such a feature of life in the UK. In this sense drug use has become both more individualistic and more mainstream. Some commentators now talk of the normalisation of drug use amongst many young people.

You can read the second part of this interview, in which Julian talks more about legal highs, as well as how parents and professionals can support young people, how we can help if a young person develops a serious problem with their drug use, and what he himself learned whilst writing the book, here.
You can also read a free extract from Julian’s book,
All About Drugs and Young People, in this blog post.

Julian Cohen is a writer, educator, counsellor and consultant who has specialised in drug and sex education work with children, young people, parents, carers and professionals for nearly 30 years. He has written extensively on drugs and young people, ranging from teaching and training packages to educational games, pamphlets and books for young people, parents and professionals. Find out more about Julian including his training courses and consultancy work on his website, here: http://www.juliancohen.org.uk/